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Green Bay named an interim school superintendent amid drama

The appointment comes weeks after former Superintendent Claude Tiller resigned following controversy over statements caught on a hot mike

The Green Bay Area Public School District has appointed Vicki Bayer as interim superintendent. Photo courtesy of the Green Bay Area Public District

The Green Bay Area Public School District has appointed a new interim superintendent. This comes weeks after former Superintendent Claude Tiller resigned following controversy over statements caught on a live mic.

However, some community members argue Tiller’s comments were taken out of context and were not grounds for losing his job.

WPR’s Joe Schulz explained the situation to All Things Considered Host Brady Carlson.

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This interview has been edited for clarity.

Dr. Claude Tiller
Former Green Bay Superintendent Claude Tiller, pictured, resigned earlier this month. Photo Courtesy of the Green Bay Area Public School District

Brady Carlson: Joe, remind us why these comments ended with (Superintendent Tiller) resigning.

Joe Schulz: So, Tiller resigned after the district had launched an investigation into the comments he made on an Atlanta radio program last month. Tiller was on the show as part of a planned multi-state tour to recruit teachers from historically black colleges and universities.

That’s because 60 percent of students in the Green Bay public schools are people of color, but over 90 percent of the teaching staff is white. And Tiller really wanted to change that.

Research shows that students perform better when teachers share their race or gender. But you know, some of his comments became controversial in the community. The program was streamed on Facebook Live and when the radio show went into commercial, the stream kept broadcasting.

In those off-air comments, he called a staff member a witch and spelled out the “b word” to describe how that person had treated an employee of color. And he also criticized the local business community for his belief that they were not doing enough to support students of color. He resigned amid an investigation into all of this. He resigned before the board was able to release the video of his interview with the Atlanta radio station.

Green Bay community members attend a school board meeting
Over 50 community members attended the Green Bay School Board’s Monday, Feb. 26, 2024, meeting. Joe Schulz/WPR

BC: Then there was this call from the community that he be reinstated. The board has since said that Tiller had the chance to rescind his resignation and didn’t do so.

JS: That’s where it gets a little murky now. On Monday, the Green Bay Press Gazette reported that Tiller actually says that his attorney emailed the school board’s attorney to talk about the possibility of rescinding his resignation. And that email was sent about two days before the deadline to do so, according to the newspaper. But Tiller in an interview with the paper said that the board wasn’t interested. We’ve submitted an open records request to get copies of the emails but we haven’t heard back yet.

The community really rallied around Tiller, especially community members of color. Community members of color also really supported Tiller’s efforts to make the district’s teaching staff better resemble its diverse student body. Tiller was the first Black superintendent in the history of the Green Bay Area Public School District. Community members of color felt that a lot of his off-air comments had been taken out of context. They really took issue with the district not releasing the interview until after Tiller had resigned.

BC: And it’s ended up revealing a lot about race in the school district.

JS: Yeah, community members of color say it highlights racial inequities in the school district. Some parents and grandparents told me that the district isn’t fair when disciplining children of color and white children equally.

Green Bay resident Rosita Jackson-Enos has called on the school board to reinstate Tiller last week. After the meeting, she told me that Green Bay as a community has had issues of racism since she moved moved there in the late 1980s. She told me it’s a tough place to live, if you’re a person of color, and you aren’t a player for the Green Bay Packers.

For a lot of people I spoke with, the situation just highlighted that there’s still a lot of work to be done in the community, both in the school system and the broader Green Bay Area to address systemic racism.

Members of the Green Bay School Board listen to public comment on speaks to the school board on Feb. 26, 2024. Joe Schulz/WPR

BC: And there’s a new interim school superintendent. What do we know about Vicki Bayer?

JS: So, the school board appointed an interim superintendent Monday night and that’s Vicki Bayer. She served as the Deputy Superintendent under Tiller and is now in the position until the board appoints a new, full-time superintendent. She actually previously served as interim superintendent because the district has had four superintendents since 2020. And she served in that role before Tiller was hired.

The search for a full-time replacement for Tiller could take months and the district’s next fiscal year starts in July. So it’s certainly something to watch in Green Bay, it’s an issue that they have to find a long-term solution for.